This page will help you get a grip on the route of the Tour du Mont Blanc. There are 11 Tour du Mont Blanc étapes (stages). If you’re planning to trek self guided independently, then you need to get acquainted really well with the trail route and understand it as much as you can before trying to plan your days and where you will stay.
The Tour starts traditionally in Les Houches, a village at the end of the Chamonix Valley and it’s actually possible to hike either way around the loop – clockwise or anti-clockwise. Most hikers hike anti-clockwise so that the views of Mont Blanc are always in front of you, but there are actually advantages of hiking clockwise, namely less traffic on the trail in the mornings.
There are several alternative start points to the TMB if you don’t want to start at Les Houches. You could start at any of the main towns along the trail – Les Contamines (France), Courmayeur (Italy) or Champex-Lac (Switzerland).
It’s also possible to start your hike higher up the Chamonix Valley so instead of starting at Stage 1, you could for example start at Stage 10. This works well if you aim to camp along the trail (and are not therefore tied to refuge bookings) and bad weather is predicted for the end of your trek. Instead of missing stage 10 and 11’s outrageously incredible views of Mont Blanc due to closed in weather, you could start here instead and lap up the views before continuing onto ‘Stage 1’.
For now though let’s talk through each stage.
What is a ‘stage’ on the TMB?
The Tour du Mont Blanc hiking route has been divided into 11 sections which can be hiked in a day. Each section is called a ‘stage’.
If you are hiking independently and do not plan to book onto a guided tour, you do not have to follow the recommended 11 stages – you can easily create your own daily hiking plan to fit to your own schedule or level of fitness.
However, all the Tour du Mont Blanc guide books refer to these stages so it’s a good place to start to get to know the trail and is invaluable during your planning phase. If you are planning your trek yourself and going down the self guided route, expect it to take a while to read up, get to know the trail and then plan your days meticulously. There’s plenty of posts here that can help you. Read our Planning – First Steps article.
How long is each stage?
It’s worth noting that each ‘stage’ is LONG averaging between 13-20km per day over challenging terrain, expect between 700m up to 1000m elevation gain each day! Covering the entire Tour du Mont Blanc in 11 days is no walk in the park – expect to be on the trail between 7-9 hours per day.
Some of you may want to walk at a more leisurely pace and cover a shorter distance each day. In this case trekking the entire circuit of the Tour du Mont Blanc could take you nearer 14 days to complete.
Many hikers choose to hike the trek over two summers dividing the Tour du Mont Blanc in half which is a very sensible option. I’ve done this when hiking with my 10 year old. Most hikers split the trek and hike (in which ever order they like):
➳ Les Houches (Chamonix Valley- FRANCE) to Courmayeur (ITALY)
➳ Courmayeur (ITALY) – Les Houches (Chamonix Valley – FRANCE)
Other superhuman hikers fast pack the trail in a week whilst hundreds of hardcore athletes run the trail every August in the ultra endurance race, the UTMB arriving back in Chamonix with 21 -46.5 hours! The choice is yours.
Stage breakdown and overview
Below is a brief breakdown of each stage which will help you get a feel for the route of the Tour du Mont Blanc. The Tour starts traditionally in Les Houches, a village at the end of the Chamonix Valley.
If you want to make a shorter itinerary, for example you only have limited time of say a week, or you want to make shorter days because you don’t want to hike 7-9 hours every day (I hear you), then go on over to our Itineraries page where we have ready made suggested itineraries to shorten sections or to only hike the most stunning stages.
Tour du Mont Blanc distances & countries
FRANCE – STAGE 1 – LES HOUCHES (CHAMONIX) – LES CONTAMINES (16km)
FRANCE – STAGE 2 – LES CONTAMINES – LES CHAPIEUX (18km)
FRANCE/ITALY – STAGE 3 – LES CHAPIEUX (FR) – RIFUGIO ELISABETTA (IT) (15km)
ITALY – STAGE 4 – REFUGIO ELISABETTA – COURMAYEUR (18km)
ITALY – STAGE 5 – COURMAYEUR – RIFUGIO BONATTI (12km)
ITALY/SWITZERLAND – STAGE 6 – RIFUGIO BONATTI (IT) – LA FOULY (CH)(20km)
SWITZERLAND – STAGE 7 – LA FOULY – CHAMPEX-LAC (15km)
SWITZERLAND – STAGE 8 – CHAMPEX-LAC – COL DE LA FORCLAZ (OR TRIENT)(16km)
SWITZERLAND/FRANCE – STAGE 9 – COL DE LA FORCLAZ – TRÉ-LE-CHAMP (FR)(13km)
FRANCE – STAGE 10 – TRÉ-LE-CHAMP – REFUGE LA FLÉGÈRE (8km)
FRANCE – STAGE 11 – REFUGE LA FLÉGÈRE – LES HOUCHES (17km)
LES HOUCHES (CHAMONIX) – LES CONTAMINES
- height gain 646m
- height loss 633m
Stage 1 starts from the village of Les Houches at the end of the Chamonix Valley, works its way over to the village of Bionnassay then down into the Montjoie Valley to the town of Les Contamines.
Faced at the beginning of trail with a brutal 600m climb from Les Houches to the Col du Voza (1653m), trekkers can opt out of this and choose to take the Bellevue cable car and be whizzed to more of less the same elevation in less than 5 minutes. Read our post on TMB short cuts.
From the Col du Voza see spectacular views of the Dome du Gouter and Aiguille de Bionnassay. The trail now meanders down through pleasant hamlets and verdant woodland. It’s still a long day but undemanding in terms of exposure and almost completely downhill if you take the cable car up.
It’s a good introduction to the trail to warm up the legs and soak up the French ambiance but nothing in terms of sheer rugged wild beauty which is yet to come.
VARIANT TRAIL – COL DU TRICOT – There is an alternative route for Stage 1 (18km) that passes the Col du Tricot (2120m) which offers much more spectacular views than the traditional route. It’s a challenging route which takes you near to glaciers, across rocky moraine and over a suspension bridge. This variant should never be considered in bad weather. Accommodation options are in Refuge de Miage or Auberge du Truc both before Les Contamines or for a much more adventurous bed for the night consider taking the ‘smuggler’s trail ‘ from the top of Col du Tricot to the tiny 18 bed Refuge Plan Glacier. The route is not signposted but we give the details in our Stage 1 Variant write up. UPDATE: The Col du Tricot suspension bridge closed on 13 July 2021 has now been repaired and is open again!
If you’re looking to shorten your Tour du Mont Blanc trek into less days, this the traditional route through Bionassay is one of the recommended stages to skip. This can be done by taking the bus from Chamonix to Les Contamines and starting your trail there. Or from getting an airport transfer direct to Les Contamines which is often easier as catching the bus from Chamonix can take a long time as you need to change in St Gervais and often the wait time is frustratingly long. Depending on the timetable schedule it can take between 2-4 hours to reach Les Contamines. Consider a private transfer if there’s a group of you or travel directly from the airport on a transfer into Les Contamines.
If you’re looking how to make stage 2 slightly easier, consider taking the Bellevue cable car to cut 2 hrs off your trail & push on through Les Contamines to stay at the first refuge on the trail after the town. Nant Borrant is a gorgeous chalet refuge 1 hr up the trail (up a very steep hill!) which will give you a head start the following day
FRANCE – STAGE 2 – LES CONTAMINES – LES CHAPIEUX
- height gain 1316m
- height loss 929m
As one of the most thrilling and spectacular stages on the Tour du Mont Blanc, this stage is not to be missed. This stage runs 18kms from Les Contamines to the end of the Montjoie Valley to Les Chapieux in the Vallée des Glaciers and commands exceptional views from it’s high altitude domain.
This is a big day with two cols to climb – Col du Bonhomme and Col du Croix du Bonhomme. Expect to see snow patches here well into the summer. If you’re trekking early – mid season (late June – mid July) hiking crampons should be in your pack to safely navigate these patches.
Refuge de La Croix du Bonhomme, a rough and ready cavernous refuge at the Col du Croix du Bonhomme has sublime views and has a great location on the trail if you’re looking to either stretch or shorten stages. Watch out the food is atrocious and often there is no shower option. Don’t depend on the packed lunch option either to sustain you the following day – stock up on lunch provisions in Les Houches or Les Contamines to keep you going through Stage 3.
The descent from the Col du Croix du Bonhomme to Les Chapieux will take around 3 hours. Les Chapieux is a tiny hamlet consisting of two accommodation providers, the cheery Refuge de la Nova (which is very much like a hotel with bar) and the more upmarket Chambres du Soleil which have en-suite bathrooms.
VARIANT – COL DES FOURS – The alternative route on this stage which crosses the Col des Fours (2665m) takes you to the highest point on the TMB which is equal in elevation to the variant Fenêtre d’Arpette on the stage 8 alternative route. In good weather (and you should only ever hike this variant route in good weather) you can see Mont Blanc. This route deviates from the traditional route at the Col du la Croix and completely by-passes Le Chapieux, dropping down via Les Tufs to Ville des Glaciers and onto Refuge des Mottets. Early in the season it’s common for snow to still be on the descent into Vallée des Glaciers. It’s a very steep descent and if you don’t feel comfortable at the top of the Col looking down the descent, it’s prudent to return the short distance to Col du Croix and continue on the traditional route to Les Chapieux. If there is snow on the trail never attempt the descent without spikes, poles and potentially an ice axe. If you intend to cross the Col Des Four booking into Refuge des Mottets.
Refuge de La Croix du Bonhomme, a rough and ready cavernous refuge at the Col du Croix du Bonhomme has sublime views and has a great location on the trail if you’re looking to either stretch or shorten stages. Watch out though – the food is atrocious and often you’re unable to shower. Don’t depend on the packed lunch option either to sustain you the following day – stock up on lunch provisions in Les Houches or Les Contamines to keep you going through Stage 3.
LES CHAPIEUX (FR) – RIFUGIO ELISABETTA (IT)
- height gain 1004m
- height loss 258m
Stage 3 is another epic day on the Tour du Mont Blanc crossing over the Col de la Seigne (2516m) from France into Italy. There’s a good chance of spotting marmots once over the Col descending into Vallée de la Lée Blanche.
If you’ve stayed in Chapieux you can shave an hour off your hike time by taking the regular shuttle bus from Les Chapieux to Ville des Glaciers (€3) – see our TMB Public Transport Options post, where the trail gradually turns into the climb for the Col de la Seigne
If you’ve pushed onto Refuge les Mottets the previous day you’ll be bang at the bottom of the Col and ready to push on over early doors.
Whilst the Cicerone guide book describes the Col de la Seigne as ‘one of the easiest crossings of the circuit’, we would beg to disagree. On tired legs from the previous day’s dual col climb, don’t underestimate the Col de la Seigne. The climb may be gradual but it takes some stamina to keep going to the top with several false summits dashing your spirits can be somewhat frustrating until you finally reach the top.
Once you summit, in clear weather you’ll see Mont Blanc and the impressive spire of the Aiguille Noire (de Peuterey) on your left and the Vallée de la Lée Blanche before you. From here you’ll descend passing La Casermetta (2365m), an old customs house which is now an environmental awareness centre and well worth a visit.
The descent is only 258m down to Rifugio Elisabetta but it will still take a few hours to get there. The refuge is similar to Refuge Croix du Bonhomme in that it’s a rough and ready high mountain cavernous refuge with unforgettable views with it’s stunning location perched at the bottom of two glaciers. Dormitories in Elisabetta can be daunting with either rather un-private sleeping platforms or triple tiered bunks. If up close and personal isn’t your bag, book a private room.
Book a ticket on the Les Chapieux shuttle bus that runs frequently in peak season to Ville des Glaciers cutting an hour off your trail time. Tickets cost €3 (age 12 & under free). Book the night before, especially if you want to catch the first bus of the day leaving at 08.30am. Buses run approximately every 30 minutes.
REFUGIO ELISABETTA – COURMAYEUR
- height gain 460m
- height loss 1560m
Stage 4 doesn’t cross a col but it’s still a very demanding stage. Don’t be duped by the relative lack of elevation. Compounded days on the trail can make the climb up onto the south flank of the Val Veni seem challenging, however hikers will be rewarded by the jaw dropping scenery of the impassable Mont Blanc massif.
From Elisabetta a short knee wrenching descent leads down into the Val Veni and onto a wide flat plain where an old roman road leads along the bottom of the valley to beautiful Lac Combal, an emerald green lake hemmed in by the natural wall of the mammoth moraine wall belonging to Glacier du Miage. In front you’ll see the gorgeous A frame Cabane du Combal.
It’s here you should stay if comfort is high on your TMB schedule. With small ensuite dorms (4-6 beds), good food and excellent coffee (and Italian staff as opposed to Elisabetta) this refuge is highly recommended. (1 hr hike on from Elisabetta).
It’s a strenuous climb up from the Lac Combal up to the ruined buildings of L’Arpe Vielle Superior and onto the highest point of the day, a spur coming off Mont Favre (2430m). It’s now hiking across the southern flank of the Val Veni with an impenetrable wall of rock, ice and jagged peaks on the opposite side that you’ll be in constant awe of your surroundings. It’s a further 1-2 hours before reaching Col Chécrouit where the trail descends into the village of Dolonne and onto Courmayeur.
Note: if you’re beyond exhaustion on reaching Col Chécrouit in peak season the chair lift descends from here and then a cable car onto Dolonne.
Short cut: It’s possible to catch the bus to Courmayeur instead of ascending up onto the Col Chécrouit. It’s a good option in bad weather or if you’re just downright exhausted! It’s a 40-50 minute descent along a tarmac road from the bridge at Lac Combal to the bus stop at La Visaille. Read more about this option in our short cuts post.
Rifugio Combal is a picture perfect A frame refuge build on the Glacier du Miage moraine, with the stunning emerald green Lac du Combal before it. Rifugio Combal is a great place to stay for those seeking more comfort than the lofty, rough and ready Elisabetta. Cabane Combal’s small dorms of 4-6 all boast en-suite facilities & the food is incredible. Our top tip is to take an early pre-breakfast 10 minute amble up to the stunning glacial lake of Lac Miage, hidden at the top of the moraine.
COURMAYEUR – RIFUGIO BONATTI
- height gain 860m
- height loss 101m
From the Italian town of Courmayeur the trail leads upwards for a couple of hours through larch woodland to the beginning of the Mont de la Saxe ridge line where Refuge Bertone commands a birds eye view of the town. A refreshment here or an early lunch is well deserved after the tiring climb. The food being unforgettably delicious and the staff super friendly.
The Mont de la Saxe flank is then an easy traverse for several hours with incredible views of the Grands Jorasses opposite until you finally reach, what we believe, is the best refuge on the entire trail, Rifugio Bonatti.
Short cut – if you want to cut your trail time or you are experiencing bad weather, you can take the number 5 bus from Place Le Monte Bianco. This route runs along the valley floor of Val Ferret and can drop you at stop “Bivio Refugio Bonatti’ – it’s then approximately a 1 hour hike up to the refuge. Read all the shortcuts on the TMB here.
Make sure you order a ‘pique nique’ from Rifugio Bonatti (order the night before). It’s the best on the trail & even includes a Pantone (a famous Italian cake) and a slab of artisan dark chocolate!
RIFUGIO BONATTI (IT) – LA FOULY (CH)
- height gain 895m
- height loss 1410m
Climbing the Grand Col Ferret today you will wave goodbye to Italy and step foot into Switzerland. Leaving the wonderful Refugio Bonatti behind you, the trail is a pleasant continuation of the traverse along the flank of Mont de la Saxe, finally descending onto the floor of the Val Ferret valley.
From here it’s a gentle up to Refugio Elena with the impressive tongue of the Pré de Bar glacier slithering down from Mont Dolent, the tri-point frontière of all three countries. The Grand Col Ferret (2537m), if you take your time, does not feel as strenuous as either Col du Bonhomme or Col de la Seigne.
From the top of the Grand Col Ferret it’s all downhill into the Swiss Val Ferret and to the village of Ferret or La Fouly. The landscape changes dramatically as you enter Switzerland. Gone are the jagged icy peaks so dramatically framing the last few days. Gentle pastures, charming hamlets and wooden chalets flying the Swiss flag greet you.
Beware: the Swiss Tour du Mont Blanc étapes (stages) can be considerably more expensive than France or Italy’s. Hot foot it through Switzerland if you’re trying to keep to a strict budget.
LA FOULY – CHAMPEX-LAC
- height gain 420m
- height loss 565m
Stage 7 of the Tour du Mont Blanc étapes is both the shortest and the easiest leg. Meandering through the Swiss ‘Val Ferret’, this stage meanders low along the valley floor from the village of La Fouly through forest and meadows with the last 90 minutes an uphill spurt to the most beautiful section of the Swiss TMB, the charming lake town of Champex-Lac (pronounced Champay-Lac).
This is said to be by many, the most underwhelming Tour du Mont Blanc étape. It’s true the trail is gentle and undulating through woodland but it does take in some charming Swiss hamlets that are Instagram worthy, notably Les Arlaches.
Many chose to fast track this stage through to Champex-Lac on the bus picking it up at the end of stage 7 to arrive in Champex-Lac for dinner. I’ve done both. The bus and the trail. It’s easy to see why many guided tours choose to miss this section out and if time is short or you’re on a budget, then this is certainly the way to go.
The bus is easy to pick up from Ferret or La Fouly and changes in Orsiéres for Champex-Lac.
Whilst stage 7 is undoubtedly the shortest & easiest section on the Tour du Mont Blanc, it does have one short exposed section. There’s a chain to hold on to & it’s not particularly scary but a fall here could be dangerous.
CHAMPEX-LAC – COL DE LA FORCLAZ
- height gain 742m
- height loss 682m
Champex-Lac is a gorgeous Swiss town organised around a beautiful lake with a backdrop of forest. It’s resplendent of Canada and in fact dubbed ‘little Canada’. It’s a unique point on the tour away from the grandeur of the icy peaks.
The trail from here climbs up ‘Alp Bovine’ to where a refreshment will be necessary. Whilst not a col it’s still a steep climb so don’t underestimate the terrain. This cattle farm sees a family tending to the animals come summer. From here you’ll see the full view of the Rhone valley with Martigny and vine yards far below.
VARIANT – FENÊTRE D’ARPETTE – this variant route takes you up to 2665m – the highest point of the TMB (shared with Col des Fours). This route should only be taken in good weather! This is the most challenging stage of the entire Tour du Mont Blanc! It’s a good job that you’ve been on the trail for numerous back to back days now so your legs should be strong! This variant offers spectacular beauty taking in the Trient glacier and sweeping views to the north. The ascent and descent is challenging at 1199m up and 1139m down. Stay at Refuge Relais d’Arpette instead of Champex if you intend to take this route – it’s 45 minutes from Champex-Lac and offers excellent accommodation as well as AMAZING food, particularly for vegans and vegetarians.
Whilst stage 8 doesn’t have a col to climb, don’t underestimate the Alps Bovine traditional route. It’s a long day on the trail with 742m of elevation
COL DE LA FORCLAZ (CH) – TRÉ-LE-CHAMP (FR)
- height gain 1069m
- height loss 1178m
Mont Blanc finally comes back into view today as you climb the Col de Balme (2191m) re-entering France from Switzerland. The views at the top are stunning as the Chamonix Valley lays beneath you.
The Refuge Col de Balme has new owners who have breathed new life into the refuge. The food is amazing – try the local dish Tartiflette, a bubbling potato & cheese feast. It’s a great place to stop for an early lunch before tackling the descent from Aiguillette des Possettes down to the tiny hamlet of Tré-le-Champ.
VARIANT – REFUGE LES GRANDS – this variant route is a much less trodden route and a beautiful but challenging variant. It can be combined with the stage 8 variant route for the adventurous that are willing to cook for themselves in Refuge Les Grands. Starting at the Col de la Forclaz this route follows the Bisse du Trient to buvette Chalet du Glacier up to the Refuge Les Grands (often unmanned) and then joins the Col de Balme. From here it’s the same route via the Aiguillette des Posettes down to Tré-le-Champ as the traditional route.
Once you arrive at Refuge du Col de Balme with the Chamonix Valley before you, those of you who want to cut short your day can take the Autannes chair lift half way down & then the Le Tour gondola lift all the way down to the village of Le Tour on the valley floor. From there there are regular no 2 buses into Chamonix (every 30 mins) so you could opt to stay the night in more comfort in Le Tour, Argentiere or Chamonix. The best way to get back on the trail the following morning is to catch the train to Montroc and follow the path at the back of the train station for 15 minutes up to the start point at the Col du Montets parking. It’s a little trickier to catch theses – no 18 to Vallorcine runs 6 times a day or the no 21 shuttle bus from Les Planards (in Chamonix) to Col du Montets will drop you at the car park, however the first bus doesn’t leave until 9.20 arriving at 9.27.
TRÉ-LE-CHAMP – REFUGE LA FLÉGÈRE
- height gain 733m
- height loss 257m
Stage 10 on the Tour du Mont Blanc étapes is particularly special. It combines the thrill of climbing a series of iron ladders over rock faces to reach the Tête aux Vents cairn (2132m) on the balcon sud trail. All along this stage, if the weather is fine you will be rewarded with staggering views of Mont Blanc and the jagged peaks of the Chamonix Valley. Whilst the traditional trail continues from the Tete au Vents Cairn along the balcon to La Flégère, most TMB hikers continue up to one of the most beautiful lakes in the Alps – Lac Blanc. The refuge here is something of legend, only being increased by it’s recent closure for a few years. We would highly recommend you to take the higher trail up from the cairn which brings you to the beautiful Lac Chesery (camping is allowed here) and onto Lac Blanc (where camping is not permitted). Expect Lac Blanc to be busy with day trippers up until 3 or 4pm in the afternoon until the last chair lift departs. Then if you’re camping at Lac Chesery or staying in the refuge you’ll have the place gloriously to yourself. There’s nothing quite like sunrise at Lac Blanc waking up to the magnificent view of Mont Blanc.
If the stage 10 ladders fill you with dread, first read our dedicated post on them – half the time you’ll realise they’re actually not that bad (our girls love them!) If however you suffer from vertigo or really don’t like exposure, you can choose to take the alternative path which starts 10-15 minutes further up the Col du Montets and meets up the Tête aux Vents cairn.
REFUGE LA FLÉGÈRE – LES HOUCHES
- height gain 772m
- height loss 1546m
Stage 11 is tough with it’s significant height loss but is well worth it to witness the spectacular Mont Blanc views as you continue along the ‘balcon sud‘, the famous balcony trail on the north flank of the Chamonix valley.
Reaching Brévent, you can choose to take the famous cable car from the mid-station to the summit or put in an extra 1-2 hours to hike to the top. From here the view is unrivalled across to Mont Blanc. In fact many guided tours start with this stage to drink in the heady views of the famous iced dome for a day before losing her out of sight in the first few stages of the trail. The descent over and down from Brévent is over a stony, rocky landscape onto a ridge trail which will finally descend past Refuge Bellachat (exceptional views to Mont Blanc) before a jarring, never ending descend to Les Houches. The trail is super steep here but well trodden. Enjoy junipers, blueberries and blazing pink rhododendrons on the way down to the valley floor.
If you’re looking to cut this stage down or even in two, take the cable car from Plan Praz (Brevent’s mid station) to it’s summit to cut 1-2 hours off the trail. To cut the stage in two and to linger gloriously in these mesmerising mountains consider staying at Refuge Lac Blanc and then the following night at Refuge Bellachat (note no shower). This is a good option if you want to protect your knees from the incredibly steep jarring downhill on this last stage.